The Depths of Deep Vellum

Article by cassandra

When Will Evans appears at Brazos Bookstore with author Carmen Boullosa on October 24, he will have just returned from the Frankfurt Book Fair, where he will have no doubt lined up another title for Deep Vellum’s growing list of original, contemporary translations. Frankfurt has been good to Evans, leading to the acquisition of more than one title that will be hitting the shelves in the coming months. In fact, attending the Frankfurt Buchmesse has been a big part of his education as a publisher. But it is not where it started.

Evans studied Russian Literature, and he found himself frustrated by the lack of contemporary Russian titles in English. A professor of his, and a seasoned translator, told him, “If you want to see this book in English, you need to translate it yourself.” That simple statement stayed with him, and while it is not the path that he has chosen--not so far, at least--it led him to start taking a closer look at the world of translation. His search led him to Open Letter, a not-for-profit publisher of literary translations at the University of Rochester, and their blog, Three Percent.

What he learned reading that blog--that a mere 3% of all the books published in the United States in any given year are translations, and that only a couple hundred of those are original translations, including poetry--brought him back to those words from his professor. And when Chad Post, the publisher at Open Letter, wrote about the problem of advocacy in literary publishing, his message resonated. Evans felt moved to take action.

He took a look around the city that he was soon to call home, and realized that Dallas was lacking in literary arts organizations. He took a look at his own bookshelves, and he saw them filled with titles from New Russian, Northwestern University Press, and FSG (which, unfortunately, has moved away from publishing translations as frequently as it once did). Evans concluded there was only one thing to do: start a small, literary translation press and build a community of readers. Dallas has become Deep Vellum’s home, and his community-building efforts will be concentrated there, but Evans doesn’t want to limit himself, either.

Once the decision was made, Evans decided that he needed to learn everything he could about the business of translation. He read everything he could get his hands on, and he reached out to people in the business, like Chad Post. He emailed Post, asking for some general advice about how to run a small non-profit press, and Post responded with the offer of an apprenticeship at Open Letter’s offices in Rochester. That summer, Evans commuted between Dallas and Rochester for his crash-course in publishing. He learned how it works, how it’s structured, and who does what. Just when he thought his apprenticeship was over, Post offered to send Evans to Frankfurt on behalf of Open Letter. That was three years ago, and it the trip has become something of annual tradition.

Now, Deep Vellum is on the verge of releasing its first title, TEXAS: THE GREAT THEFT. It’s the most recent work from Carmen Boullosa, an author that Robert Bolaño once called “Mexico’s greatest woman writer.” Unsurprisingly, Post and Open Letter played an integral part in bring this book to Evans’ attention. They passed on the title, but they made sure that Evans knew about it, thinking it would be a perfect fit for Deep Vellum. They were right. It’s a more than fitting first title for a small press in the Lone Star State.

Cassandra Neace is a recovering educator, a contributing editor for Book Riot, and an unapologetic binge-reader. Her most recent binge-reads have involved short fiction from across the spectrum, science fiction written by women, and all of the books she read under duress in grad school. She figured they deserved a second chance. When she’s not reading books or writing about them, she works for a local graphic design firm.

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